Expert reveals five simple steps to improve your credit score overnight
Published 8:30 am Sunday, February 12, 2023
Credit scores are a fact of life we all have to confront sooner or later. They rise and fall according to our decisions, often before we even understand what credit is and what affects it.
Moreover, credit scores are inscrutable. The credit tracking agencies keep the specifics of their algorithms a secret. Many people don’t even know that Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are not the exclusive authorities on credit. There are dozens of credit reporting agencies. All of them track and weight aspects of credit differently, so your score across them all will be different.
Yet, despite all of this mystery, credit scores are a critical deciding factor for everything from your ability to buy a car to your chances of getting a mortgage. Having a lower score can tangibly harm your life and lifestyle, and you may never quite know why or even realize it’s happening.
Credit expert Shaun Connell from Credit Building Tips reveals five tangible actions you can take to improve your credit score quickly.
#1: Keep Credit Utilization Low
Your credit score is, in part, a measurement of how reliable you are at paying off the money you borrow. This score applies whether you’re getting a massive 30-year mortgage or buying $50 worth of groceries on your credit card. You borrow money, you pay that money back, regularly and on time.
One aspect of credit that hugely factors into your score is utilization. Credit utilization is the amount of your total credit that you use. Utilization also accounts for as much as a third of your credit score, so keeping your utilization low can be a considerable boost.
Your target number is around 30% or lower and there’s a few ways to get there. You should aim to keep your total running balance across all of your cards – avoid borrowing too much whenever possible so that your cards are balanced properly. Getting and keeping your utilization under 30% is a sure-fire way to boost your score.
#2: Increase Your Credit Limits
Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the luxury of quickly paying down debt.
Luckily, you can approach the problem from the other side as well. Consider asking your financial institutions for a higher credit limit. If your account is in good standing – that is, no late payments – they may be more than happy to raise your limits. Increasing limits will lower your percentage utilized and can be helpful to your score – as long as you don’t rack up even more debt.
Most of the time, asking for a higher credit limit is as simple as calling your credit card or bank and talking to customer service. As long as your account is in good standing – even if you’re already carrying a balance – many institutions will be more than happy to increase your limit for you.
Banks want you to have a higher limit when you’ve proven you can pay it off because then you’ll be more likely to carry a higher balance and thus rack up even more interest for them to earn off of your spending.
That’s why the key here is to ask for a higher limit but treat your spending as if you didn’t have that higher limit. That way, you keep your utilization low and carry as small a balance as possible. This strategy is great because it can boost your score, but it also helps you by keeping your monthly payments small and your interest low.
#3: Avoid Closing Old Accounts
Another factor that goes into your credit score is the overall age of your credit history. The older your credit history, the more experience you have with managing your money appropriately, so the better off you’ll be.
The trick here is that you have to keep old accounts active. You can’t open a credit card and never use it.
Generally, our advice is to set up auto-pay on a bill or two and then forget about it. Even something as simple as a Netflix subscription can be enough to keep your line of credit active with relatively little risk of ever boosting utilization too high or otherwise breaking the pattern.
#4: Check and Challenge Credit Errors
Banks are not infallible. They can make errors. Payments – especially payments by check or mail – can slip through the cracks. Reports can get mixed up.
Federal law requires that each of the three main credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – provide a full credit report to everyone upon request, for free, once a year. Once a year, at minimum, you want to request your credit report and look for errors.
What kind of errors might you find?
- Late payments when you know you haven’t missed a payment.
- Information that isn’t yours, like a line of credit you didn’t open.
- Clerical errors from debt furnishers are erroneously reporting debt you don’t owe.
- You may find old debt that should age out but has been refreshed to keep it on your report.
Essentially, you can dispute anything inaccurate, fraudulent, or false. How do you do it?
Start by creating a list of all of the errors you find, so you can keep track of what you challenge, when, and when it’s removed. You want to maintain proof in case any of it reappears.
Next, gather any supporting evidence you can to challenge the errors—for example, payment and transaction history may show zero late fees to contest a late payment report.
At this point, you want to write a Credit Challenge Letter. This letter is a formal statement to the credit bureau that you are challenging a line on your credit report as inaccurate and why.
#5: Get Credit for Uncredited Payments
In general, your credit score only keeps track of things like loans, credit cards, and other significant financial transactions.
A lot of your basic, everyday transactions aren’t counted. What falls into this category?
- Regular payments to streaming services.
- Fees for monthly entertainment accounts.
- Rent payments.
- Expenses to utility companies like water, gas, trash, and power.
All of these are regular monthly payments that you pay on time (obviously, or else your service is canceled) and should count towards your credit score. You might even notice that mortgage payments are counted, but rent payments aren’t. The problem here is that the lender has to pay to submit the information to the credit bureaus to get those sorts of transactions reported. Your landlord or your utility company don’t want to spend this extra fee, in part because it doesn’t help them in any way, so you’re left with all of these regular payments that don’t go on your report and don’t help you.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can get these reported.
- Rent Reporting Services are services you can pay the fee to have the data reported. They generally cost between $50 to $100 to set up and $10 per month afterward to keep reporting the information.
- Extra Credit, a service from Credit.com, seeks out many different forms of regular payment to consider and report.
- Experian Boost is a service from Experian that adds additional regular payment systems to your credit score, though it only works for one bureau.
Additionally, newer versions of FICO (your credit score) take these other channels into account and are slowly gaining popularity.
How Much Will Your Score Rise?
Considering the above tips, how much can you raise your score? The truth is that it varies.
Some of these steps can have a near-instant effect, and you’ll see a bump in your score within a month or less. Others might be more long-term since credit scores are slow to change even in the best of times.
Luckily, you don’t need a perfect score. Getting your score above 750 can get you slightly lower interest rates or better loan terms, but the most significant benefit is bringing your score from under 500 to over 600. In practical terms, anything above 650 is good enough for most people.